While on a scientific expedition to Venezuela, world-renowned entomologist Doctor Atherton discovers a new species of spider… one that “sits at the top of the food chain.” Measuring eight inches across, the predatory, bird-eating arachnid is highly poisonous, fearsomely intelligent and has an “attack” attitude.
The spider bites and kills the team’s photographer and, unbeknownst to anyone, hitches a ride in the victim’s coffin back to Canaima, a small California town. Taking up residence in the new home of Dr. Ross and Molly Jennings, the jumbo spider mates to produce deadly drones, or soldier spiders that begin terrorizing the locals.
In order to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life, Ross has moved his medical practice to what seems like the perfect place to raise a family. Ross, however, loses his first two patients to what he later determines are spider bites. Complicating matters is Ross’ irrational fear of spiders, or arachnophobia.
Enter Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) as the “Rambo” of exterminators who is undaunted in his quest to eliminate the killer spiders. With more of the townsfolk dying like flies, Doctor Atherton is eventually brought in to help Ross and Delbert formulate a plan. In a climatic finish, Ross overcomes his arachnophobia to battle the militant arachnid one-on-one.
The basic premise of overcoming fears to protect our loved ones is biblical, but how Ross is able to overcome his arachnophobia is not pursued. More significantly, much of the movie’s humor is derived from the victims’ deaths, i.e. their facial expressions at time of death. Not a positive message, even if the death scenes aren’t meant to be taken seriously.
This is the first movie from Disney’s new Hollywood Pictures division, which made the film in conjunction with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Spielberg’s impact is evident, and since Alfred Hitchcock was an early influence in Spielberg’s career, much of ARACHNOPHOBIA will remind you of PSYCHO and THE BIRDS. There is even a shower scene. The suspense is well paced and plays on our creepiest, crawliest fears, from spiders in the toilet to their tendency to crawl into the nearest empty slipper.
ARACHNOPHOBIA will probably do for spiders what JAWS did for sharks (or at least put new shivers into the nursery rhyme, “Along Came a Spider”). Though laughter is balanced with chills, the chills are too intense for all but the most robust. Children should definitely not see the picture.
The movie is marred by a couple dozen profanities and obscenities. When you think about it, it shows a truly remarkable lack of sensitivity that someone during filming has to say, “Now in this scene, I want you to turn toward the camera and say ____.” One obscenity uttered by a football player is rebuked by his coach, but neither this, nor the solid picture of family life portrayed is enough to redeem the film.
However, the camera work and music are good, and at times, absolutely spectacular, with the opening reminiscent of the magnificent soaring vistas in Cinerama. However, unless scary thrillers laced with profanity are your cup of tea, you should avoid ARACHNOPHOBIA. You could have nightmares for weeks.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please address your comments to:
Mr. Steven Spielberg
% Universal Pictures
100 Universal City
Universal City, CA 91608
Two dozen obscenities and profanities; brief partial female nudity; and, using death as a basis for humor.